Pennsylvania’s first openly gay state lawmaker says he nearly lost his re-election effort because of voters’ reaction to his sexual orientation, not his voting record.
Rep. Mike Fleck, R-Huntingdon, has unofficially lost the Republican primary for his House district, but has won the Democratic primary by a margin of 15 write-in votes. The Department of State, which oversees elections, is expected to certify the results next week, making them final.
Fleck said there were two dynamics at work in the primary election: opposition to his policy platform and a more subtle reaction to his announcement in late 2012 that he’s gay.
Since at least 2011, Fleck has faced negative mailings and ads from Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania, a group that supports General Assembly candidates who vote for free market, limited government, and anti-union legislation.
“Our campaign had absolutely nothing to do with his sexual orientation or anything like that,” said CAP’s director, Leo Knepper. He said recent ads focused on Fleck’s vote for a transportation funding package that would increase a tax on gas and on bills supporting the state’s largest teacher’s union.
“This was related to his cozy relationship with various organized labor organizations, as well as opposition to school choice and his propensity to vote for various types of corporate welfare,” Knepper said. “So we took issue with his voting record.”
Fleck responds that he’s also voted against the teachers union, supporting a bill to eliminate property taxes. He said his gas tax vote was needed to fund road and bridge repairs that he believes are sorely needed, and he points out that the CAP-supported Sen. John Eichelberger, R-Blair, voted for the measure.
Ads criticizing Fleck’s record have been part of his political landscape for at least three years. What was new, to Fleck – and the second dynamic at work — was his late 2012 announcement that he’s gay.
“How do you explain that I barely won the Democratic write-in?” said Fleck, turning his attention to breakdown of votes between himself and his write-in challenger, Huntingdon County Treasurer Richard Irvin.
“So, the Democrats were more interested in writing in a tea party Republican over someone who was probably more with their issues?” said Fleck. “I mean, it just doesn’t wash.”
Fleck said his chances look better in the general election. CAP has not indicated whether it will campaign against him. Fleck expects his supporters will be much more active in a general election.